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Rat Toy Ideas

Are your rats in need of some entertainment?  Here's a few cheap and simple ideas for toys and games.

Digging box

My boys love their digging box more than any other toy!  They enjoy digging in the soil, they also love to forage for seeds that haven't sprouted, nibble on the grass and dig up roots to eat.  They also like to sleep in trenches dug in it during the heat of the day.  If you haven't given one of these to your rats yet then you should.

1.  Get a largish box or tray.  I use a 40 x 30 x 20 cm (16 x 12 x 8") plastic plant tub with drain holes in the bottom.  You could even use a tough cardboard box as a disposable one, I suppose.
2.  Half fill with clean soil.  Get a sterilised soil from the garden shop, with no added fertilisers, chemicals or stray bugs.
3.  Toss in a handful of birdseed (I use a parrot mix) and water lightly.
4.  Wait a few days until the seeds sprout.  You'll have a nice crop of "grass" in less than a week.  I prefer to give it to the rats when it's at least a little root bound, otherwise they fling soil everywhere.  And I don't water it for
the last two days so it's not muddy when the rats climb in.
5.  Place the digging box in an easy clean location (e.g.. bath, shower base or place down some plastic sheeting)
6.  Add rats

You may want to toss in (or bury) a few of their favourite treats to get them started.  They will chew on the grass and unsprouted seeds, frolic in the grass, lurk in the grass ready to pounce on unsuspecting cagemates, and dig fling dig fling dig fling...  Yes, they will end up with filthy feet and noses.  And yes, the room will be a mess afterwards, but the sheer joy with which they fling the soil around is well worth a little cleaning up.
For baby rats, you can create a safe clean "digging box" by filling a tub with fabric strips and tissues.

See more photos of our boys enjoying The Digging Box.

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Fishing for peas

This is a fun game for cooling rats down on hot summer days.

1.  Get a shallow tray big enough to fit your rats in.  A paint roller tray is perfect as it has a deep end and a handy slip free ramp into the "pool".
2.  Shallowly fill with water
3.  Place somewhere water-proof (like the bathroom floor or on a plastic sheet)
4.  Keep a towel handy to nab wet rats before they sneak off to sleep in a soggy pile on your antique leather sofa
5.  Toss in a few frozen peas (or corn, if your rats prefer)
6.  Add rats

The water loving rats (or those insatiable pea addicts) will jump/wade right into the pool and dive under to nab the peas.  The more nervous ones will fish for peas with their hands from the pool sides.  Either way they'll enjoy it.

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Ratty piñata

You know, those things you hang up at parties full of goodies and whack with a stick until the treats fall out.

1.  Get some paper towels and lay them out several layers thick.  When your rats are older/wiser/tougher you can use a cardboard toilet paper roll with the ends folded in to close it up.
2.  Place a pile of peas, corn, yogurt drops, sunflower seeds, cheerios, or whatever treats your rats love on the paper.
3.  Bundle it up and tie it closed with some string/tape.
4.  String it up high in the cage so that they can just reach it standing on their back feet and it can swing freely.
5.  Add rats

They will go wild when they smell the treats and get lots of exercise and have fun with the challenge.  A hard to get into one is great to give them just as you leave for work in the morning or go to bed at night... it gives them something productive to do in the cage while you're not there to play with them.

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Something fun to hang up in their cage for christmas, new years, birthdays, etc.

1.  Get a needle and strong cotton thread.
2.  Choose an assortment of threadable (and preferably non rapidly perishable) rat treats: like popcorn, grapes, dried fruit, cheerios, peanuts in their shell.  Even cheese, bread or fruit pieces if you don't plan to leave it up very long.
3.  Thread them onto the cotton, alternating to make it colourful and interesting.
4.  String up high in the cage
5.  Add rats

These will look festive and cheerful and the rats will have fun munching their favourite treats off them.

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The Soft Tunnel

This is a very simple and cheaply made run through toy, although it does require basic sewing skills.

1. Buy some track suit fleece or other cheap fabric like calico or cotton knit.
2. Cut a 30 - 40 cm X 1-2m length, or whatever size you like as long as it fits a rat in when constructed.
3. Sew it into a long rat sized tube.  A sewing machine is good, but you could also just hand stitch it or even tape it together.
4.  If you're feeling inventive, add a few off-shoots, intersections, connecting loops, rooms, etc. to create more of a maze.
[If you're completely sewing impaired, you can simply buy a pair of kids tracksuit pants to use a a soft sewer]
5.  Cut a 10 cm length of mailing tube (or plastic drink bottle) and place it in the ends of the soft tunnel to hold the openings open.
6.  Add rats

The rats will enjoy chasing each other through it and can chew as many new openings in it as they like.  It can easily be folded up when not in use and tossed in the wash when the little furry ones pee in it.

Can't sew?  The Dapper Rat has Soft Tunnels available for purchase.

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Hammocks, etc.

Rats love hammocks!  There's so many ways to make them and use them differently for variety.  Here are a few simple ideas:

1.  The basic hammock:
Cut off an old jeans leg, thread two pieces of rope through it and tie up in the cage.  Or use an old face washer or cut a piece of tough fabric to size, punch holes in each corner, and feed through some rope/string/shoelaces to tie it up.  You could also attach it to the cage wire using safety pins or curtain hooks for easy removal for cleaning.

2.  The pocket hammock:
Cut a piece of tough fabric to size.  Fold it over so that the top covers 3/4 of the bottom.  Sew up the sides.  String/hook it up in the cage.  The rats can lounge on top, or burrow inside the pocket when it gets cold.  Ideal in winter when made from warm fluffy polar fleece.
Pocket Hammocks are available from The Dapper Rat.

2.  The cot shelf:
Cut two pieces of wooden dowel and indent the ends to exactly fit your cage like a bird perch.  Cut a jeans leg, or sew two hems along the edges of a piece of tough fabric.  Feed the dowel through and attach to cage.  With the fabric pulled tightly it will form a shelf, left loose it will form a hammock.
These are also handy for corner shelves.  Cut the dowel to fit across a corner.  Sew up a triangular piece of fabric with a hem for the dowel to fit through.  Tie a piece of string on the triangle apex and attach to the cage.

3.  Lofts:
Cut off an old jeans leg, feed two pieces of rope through and tie them relatively close together in the cage so that the jeans leg stays hanging open and the rats can climb inside.  Alternatively, punch four holes in the top part of the jeans leg and tie it up with rope.  You could even close in one end of the loft to make it more snug.
Tube Lofts available from The Dapper Rat.

4.  The slippery dip:
Cut a piece of tough fabric so that it will reach from a higher shelf down to a lower one.  Tie it to the shelves to it is tight.  The ratties can climb up it and slide down it.  A nice change from a ladder or ramp.

6.  The rat pouch:
Cut a tough piece of fabric to size.  Double it over so the top covers 3/4 of the bottom and sew up the sides (you may want to make the overlapped bit wider so that it hangs open when hung up).  Attach string to the two top corners and hang it up on the cage wall. The ratties can climb in for a hanging hidden nap.

7.  The Snuggle Sack:
These can be sewed from calico or fleece (as in the photo), or simply use a fabric shopping bag or old sack.  Sit the rat sack on the floor of the cage and attach a hook to the top so that it holds the entrance open for the rats to get in.  These are handy for placing underneath ladders and ramps.  The rats will love sleeping and playing and wrestling inside it.
Snuggle Sacks are available from The Dapper Rat.

One thing to consider:  when you're making your rats a hammock, make two.  It's always handy to have a spare when the first one is in the wash or they chew it to shreds.

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The Rat Bin

Rats love nothing better than to dig through boxes, hunt for food scraps, fling things around and shred paper, cardboard, etc.  In brief, they'd give their whiskers to be let loose in your trash bin for play time.  Of course, you don't want your ratty getting his/her teeth into the kind of icky stuff in your bin, so why not make them one of their own.

1.  Get a cardboard box or plastic bin
2.  Find some rat friendly trash like: screwed up newspaper, cardboard cereal boxes, paddle pop sticks, tissues, bits of scrap fabric, old paperback books, empty cut-off plastic bottles, wood block off cuts, old magazines, wine corks, etc.
3.  Toss in some non instantly perishable treats like: nuts in their shell, lab blocks, cheerios, yogurt drops, etc. Make sure to hide them well, like inside a screwed up piece of paper.
4.  Place in corner of rat room and say to them "No!  You can't play in this bin!"  :)
5.  Add rats

They will enjoy digging into the bin, flinging things around, shredding, gnawing, and stashing anything they find that looks interesting.  Then there's the added bonus of finding a treat.  Should keep them active and challenged (for awhile at least).

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The Clubhouse

Every rat needs a clubhouse in his free range area.  This is a cheaply constructed shoe box and anything else lying around that rats might like fun house for use when outside their cage.  It has many purposes: chasing each other through, conducting secret rats' business, stashing emergency food supplies, conspiring mischief, lurking in wait to pounce, a safe zone to run to if scared, among other things.... but mainly it's rat property and they can do whatever they like to it.

1.  Find any useful construction equipment like shoe boxes, packing cardboard, balsa wood, mailing tubes, fabric strips, thick rope, parrot ladders, plastic bottles, etc.
2.  Other useful items:  cutting blade, packing tape, string
3.  Let your imagination run wild:
Levels:  Two and three storey houses can be made out of stacked shoe boxes, taped together, with access holes cut between levels.
Bridges:  Balsa wood, thick rope or fabric pulled tight
Tunnels: Mailing tubes or old drink bottles with tops and bottoms cut off, fabric tunnels (See The Soft Tunnel)
Doors: simple round/square cuts, fabric hanging one (like a cat flap) so humans can't spy on those secret meetings, trap doors, one way doors, etc
Windows: Cut holes large enough to fit a rat nose through and let them do the rest.
Staircases: parrot ladders, thick ropes, fabric slippery dips, balsa wood ramps
4.  Toss in some play things: fabric strips, tissues to shred, a ping pong ball to fling around, hide some treats, etc
5.  Get a poster pen and write:  "Rats Only" over the entrance door.
6.  Add rats

You can easily make it so that it can be disassembled when it's not in use.  I highly recommend having a removable "roof" to extract troublesome ratties when it's time to go home to the cage.

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Ratty Beanbags

What rat doesn't love to laze around during the day?  Here's a simple, comfy spot for summer or winter.

1.  Cut some tough fabric (like denim) into a rectangle, size depending on your number of rats.
2.  Sew up the side seems so that it forms a pillow case, leaving one end open to put the filling in.
3.  Fill loosely with whole uncooked wheat grains, rice or small dried beans.
4.  Sew up the end to close it completely.

The wheat grains, rice or beans hold temperature very well.  For hot summer days, place the beanbag in the fridge/freezer to cool down before giving it to your rats to laze on.  In winter, it can be microwaved (or heated in an oven) on a low - moderate setting until it's warm (careful: NOT hot) and the rats can snuggle up on it.
You may want to use a few layers of fabric if your rats are fast shredders.  But if they do manage to chew their way into the beanbag, a little dry wheat or rice isn't going to hurt them.
A warm beanbag is also handy for sick rats to snuggle up to and transporting rats during winter.

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Paper mache hideout

This is a simple, cheap hideout that rats will love.

1.  You will need: a balloon, a roll of toilet paper (or perhaps some newspaper) and some water.
2.  Blow up the balloon.
3.  Tear off strips of toilet paper, wet them and stick them onto the balloon.  Continue doing this until the balloon is completely covered except for a small entrance hole.  Ensure the paper is thick enough to "hold it's own" when the balloon is removed.
4.  Let dry.
5.  Pop balloon and remove it.
6.  Either cut the base flat so it is stable, or string the round
hideout up in the cage as a loft.
7.  Add rats.

Be inventive with different balloon shapes, or use other molds (like tissue boxes or upturned plastic bowls) to make interesting shapes.  This will not produce a permanent hideout, as it will deteriorate with wetting.  But the rats will have a great time hiding in it and shredding it.

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Rat Party Games

They only get a few birthdays, let them have some fun!

1.  Presents
Wrap all your ratty's presents up in gift wrap (or newspaper).  They'll almost certainly have more fun ripping the paper off and playing with the item's packaging than they'll have with the actual present.

2.  Birthday cake
A small low fat banana muffin, topped with cream cheese "icing" and sprinkled with sunflower seeds makes a
perfect ratty birthday cake.  Ensure no whiskery noses get singed on the candle.

3.  Pass the parcel
Wrap up a yogurt drop in a small piece of newspaper or paper towel.  Add another treat to the package and wrap it up again.  Continue to do this until you've got a large package with many layers of wrapping paper and lots of treats hidden in it.  Add rats.  Just don't expect them to pass it on to their cagemate when the music starts.

4.  Scavenger hunt
Prepare a rat proofed area of your house.  Hide lots of treats all about in sneaky, hard to reach locations.  Add rats.

5.  Pin the tail on the donkey - ratty version
Place a litter tray in the middle of the room.  Add rats.  Whichever rat pees/poops nearest to the litter tray wins
a yogurt drop.

6.  Donkey rides
Get down on your hands and knees, and place a rat on your back.  Yes, you'll feel like an ass, that's how the game gets it's name.  The rat steers you by where s/he moves on your back.  If s/he goes up near your head, go forwards; down to your butt, go backwards; to the left side, turn left; etc.  Your rat will soon learn to steer you to the yogurt drop jar.

7.  Other games - pinatas, fishing for peas

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So simple

Rats may be smart, but they still love simple toys (for awhile, at least).  These 12 ideas are about as simple as it gets:

1.  The Rat Sack
Buy or make a sack (I use a calico shopping bag) or use an old pillowcase, canvas backpack or tote bag.  Provide an entrance for rats by tying up the opening with string or placing a mailing tube tunnel into it.  Add rats.

2.  The Towel Maze
Drop a towel (or bedspread, sheet, rug, etc) on top of your rats and bundle them up in it.  Watch them have fun finding their way out.  Better make it an old towel if you don't care for "ventilated" towels.

3.  The Sewer Pipe
Buy some rat sized flexible PVC pipe/hose.  Alternatively, make a long pipe out of lengths of plastic plumbing pipe or rolled cardboard, and empty plastic drink bottles (with the ends cut off) taped together.

4.  The Rock
Being a geologist, my house is filled with interesting rocks as door-stops.  The rats love nothing better than to sniff them, climb on them, pee on them, try to dig under them, etc.  As an added bonus, it can help to keep sharp ratty claws blunt.

5.  The Bookshelf
Take any heirloom books or other important things off your bookshelf.  Add rats.  Rats love to climb and digest literature.

6.  The Washing Basket
Toss your rats into your washing basket when it's filled with dirty washing.  They'll fling, sniff and dig their way to the bottom. Just don't let them stay there long enough to gnaw anything, and be sure to remember to remove the rats prior to doing the washing.

7.  The Ping Pong Ball
Toss a ping pong (table tennis) ball into their cage or play room.  It's just big enough that they can't get their teeth around it, so it will be flung and chased around, usually into the food bowl or litter tray.  Fudge used to "play ball" with me... I'll roll the ball into his hideout and he'll fling it back out at me with his nose.

8.  The Newspaper
Fold up some old newspapers into tent like structures, roll some into tunnels, and hide some treats between the layers of paper.  Add rats.

9.  The Tug of War
Use a piece of fabric, shoelace, cardboard, whatever.  But let your rat win... you can easily trade the item back off the rat afterwards with a yogurt drop.

10.  The Kitchen Cupboard
Remove anything dangerous to rats from your kitchen food cupboard/pantry.  Add rats and supervise.  My boys have never done quite so much power sniffing in so short a time... they got quite excited by all the new smells and textures.

11.  The Tissue Box
Place a full tissue box in your rat cage or room.  Pull out a few tissues and give them to the rats to show them what to do.  They will stash these in their nest box and come back for more.  Stand back and watch the action... it won't take them long to stash all the tissues and then you've got a new empty tissue box as a nest box for them as well.  This can also be done with a toilet paper roll, just hang it up in their cage.

12.  The Lattice
Use any old off cuts of cage wire or plastic garden lattice.  Attach to (or lean it against) the wall, securing it with
pushpins/nails/string.  And there you have it, your rat's very own indoor climbing wall.  Perhaps place it so that
it forms an access way to an otherwise out of rat reach area, like a window sill.

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Chew Toys

Here's a few chew toy ideas for your ratties for when they get bored with shredding your antique furniture, heirloom quilt and expensive carpet.

1.  Macadamia nuts in their shell.  Or any other hard shelled nut for that matter (try pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc).
2.  Cooked chicken or beef bones (that's Statty gnawing one in the photo)
3.  Wood chews (preferably non-pine). You can buy flavoured wood blocks from pet stores, or soak some clean wood blocks in juice for flavour.  Your rats may also enjoy paddle pop sticks (leave some icecream on it for them!) or disposable wooden chop sticks, and will probably chew on any wooden toys in their cage.
4.  Nylabone edibles
5.  Hard, low protein, low fat dog biscuits (e.g. Eukanuba Restricted Calorie Rewards)
6.  Baby teething rusks
7.  Wine corks - heaps of fun to shred, or so my boys tell me.
8.  Cardboard boxes - these make a handy nest box and chew toy in one.

Rat teeth grow constantly and although they brux to keep them down, rats also love to gnaw.  No matter how many chew toys you offer them, they often get more enjoyment out of chewing things they shouldn't (like your furniture, toothbrush, pencils, etc).  However, most things are safe for rats to chew as their mouths are designed not to ingest gnawed fragments.  For more info on the amazing rat teeth go here.

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One on one

Here are some game ideas for you to play one on one with your rat during that essential quality time.

1.  The Rat Toss
Pick up your rat and lightly toss him/her onto a soft surface, like a cushion, hammock, sofa or doona.  Most rats will enjoy it and come running back for more.  You can get higher and more adventurous if your rat is into extreme sports, but always make sure the landing is soft and safe.

2.  Hand wrestling
Make your hand chase and wrestle with your rat.  Tip him/her over and groom their belly with your fingernails.  Just remember to let your rat win occasionally.

3.  Hide and seek
Hide a yogurt drop somewhere under your clothes.  Add rat.

4.  Mutual grooming
Brush your rat.  In turn, let him/her groom your eyebrows, clean your teeth, check your ears for wax build-up, trim your nose hairs, give you a manicure, nibble off your foot callouses, remove any Band-Aids, tug on your earrings and pee on your rings.

5.  The Rat Roll
Lie your rat down on his/her back and with a hand on each side, roll him/her from side to side.  This game should be combined with profuse belly tickling and kissing.

6.  Bruxing contest
Sit / lie eye level with your rat and start bruxing at him/her until your rat bruxes back at you.  The winner if the first to boggle their eyes out of their head.

7.  Sharing
Let your rat share your ice cream, nibble on the book you're reading, cuddle up under your jumper for warmth, or walk on the tv remote to choose the channel for you both to watch.

See also Scritching 101
For more fun ideas check out Playing Games With Rats

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Ramps, etc.

OK, so you've got that wonderful roomy cage for your rats.  There's numerous shelves for them, with wire ramps joining them all... and yet, your rats are bored.  Wire ramps are pretty uninspiring things for rats. .. they aren't much fun to climb, can't be effectively chewed, and their nails can get caught in the wire.  Here's some cheap, simple and creative ways to make your rat cage interesting using alternatives to the usual wire ramps.

1.  Home-made ramps
Go to the hardware store and buy the necessary length in 4-6" wide balsa wood. The balsa is very light and can be cut with a knife so its easy to work with. While you're there, also get a couple of lengths of half dowels and some hobby glue and/or small tacks.  Cut the half dowels to the exact width of the balsa (4-6") and attach them across the balsa at ~2" intervals. These provide the "grips" on the ramp, like rungs on a ladder. You can attach them using a safe hobby glue or small tacks.  A simple alternative to the dowel is to save your paddle pop sticks... these make great ramp grips too.  Put some screw-in hooks at the top for attachment to shelves.
If you want something colourful, soak the wood in some bright food coloring solution.  It's not permanent, but lasts many washings and is non-toxic.  Or, you might want to coat the balsa ramp with colourful stick-on plastic contact sheeting to pee proof it.

2.  Wooden parrot ladders
These are pretty cheap (especially if you buy the really long ones and cut them into several pieces), good to chew on and colourful.

3. Fabric climbs.
Cut the necessary rectangular length of tough fabric (like denim).  Attach eyelets to the four corners (you can buy hammer-in ones from sewing shops).  Then, using hooks, attach one end to the shelf and the other end to the floor or another shelf, so it is stretched tight.  A length of old carpet would also work well.

4. Large knotted climbing rope.
You can make these out of strips of old T-shirts, twisted together thickly and then plaited.  Ratlets especially love climbing these.
The Dapper Rat has colourful Ratty Ropes available for purchase.

5. Step down.
That is, place a few boxes, a hammock, a rock, etc. nearby so that the rats can jump down from shelf to box to rock to floor.

6. Tube slide.
Get creative with some PVC piping segments.  You can angle it so that it runs from the shelf to the floor, even include a few twists and turns.

7. A tree branch.
These make great climbing frames for rats, and if positioned correctly can be used as a ramp between cage levels (as shown in the Lower Grotto here).  It's also handy for keeping those sharp ratty claws down and providing exercise.  Attach the branch securely in the cage with a screw, hook, bolt, cable ties, etc.  And be sure to only use branches that are non-toxic to rats (most eucalypts are OK).

8.  The sock tunnel.
Get an old large sports sock.  Cut the toe off so that it forms a tube.  Using some hooks or ties, attach one end to the shelf.  Your rats can climb down inside the tube to reach the floor.

9.  Vertical climb
Convert their existing wire ramp into a vertical climb.  This will add more interest and exercise.

10.  Down your pants.
Use some small kid sized tracksuit pants (look in your local thrift shop).  These make excellent pre designed double tunnels for rats.  Simply attach the waist band to the shelf and let the rats climb down the legs.  (Again, I prefer to use eyelets and hooks, so that it's easy to remove them for washing).  This can get even more interesting if you attach one of the legs to another shelf, as the leg can form quite a nice cosy loft for snoozing rats.

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Ratlet Toys

Here's a couple of toy ideas specifically to entertain young ratlets.

1.  Digging box
Get a large shoe box and fill it with cut up old t-shirts, socks, fabric off-cuts, tissues, etc.  Toss in the ratlets and watch as they dig and fling with abandon (as Bokeh shows here).

2.  Fabric run through
Go to your local discount store and buy a pair of kid sized track pants.  Hold the ends open with a piece of mailing tube, if necessary.  The ratlets will love chasing through them and wrestling in them.  This has always been my ratlets' favourite toy.  (Alternatively make your own Soft Tunnel)

3.  Tube mazes
Toilet rolls, Pringle's cans, PVC pipes, mailing tubes, milk cartons with the ends cut off, etc.  Tape them together into a maze.

4.  Clubhouse
Get creative with shoe boxes, cutting blade and packing tape.  More details here.

5.  Climbing frames
Ratlets love to climb and if they don't have a wire cage, then you can provide them with their own climbing frame.  Just get some wire mesh (or even plastic garden mesh) and either bend it into a dome shape or lean it against a wall.  You can attach it to a solid structure with cable ties.  It's always more interesting to climb if it provides access to somewhere they otherwise can't get to, like a windowsill or table.

6.  Newspaper house
Make a simple "house" out of a couple of old newspapers and some tape.  They will enjoy playing in it and eventually shredding the paper around them.

7.  Tents
Sit on the floor or sofa and drape an old sheet/blanket over yourself.  Ratlets love playing around in the dark and it will help socialise them by associating your smell with safety and fun.

8.  Paper bags
Large paper bags are great for wrestling, chasing and stashing treats in.

9.  Other ratlets
Of course, no toy can beat the interactive fun of another ratlet.  Consider adopting new ratlets in pairs (or more!).

10.  Yourself
There's something so wonderful about lying down on the floor and being thoroughly investigated by exploratory whiskery noses.  Ratlets are particularly appreciative of long loose sleeves, unbound long hair, and shirts with buttons, pockets and (soon to be un)attached bows / zippers / strings / etc.

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Nest Boxes

All rats need a nest box or two... to lurk in away from the light, a warm place to sleep during winter, to wrestle in and stash food in, etc.  But you're not restricted to a couple of expensive pet store nest boxes.  Here's some cheap, simple and fun ideas to offer variety for your rats.
1.  Cardboard boxes
These can be tissue boxes, breakfast cereal boxes, mailing boxes, shoe boxes, etc. with a hole cut in for a door.  The advantage is they are cheap/free and they're a nest box and chew toy in one.  However, they will be peed in and shredded and need to be replaced regularly as they become stinky.  A good idea is to provide a box that has no floor in it (like an upturned shoe box without it's lid) so that they don't pee-soak the base of it too fast.

2.  Plastic cartons
Cut the ends of 2L milk containers, large plastic juice or coke bottles or take-out food containers (for small ratlet sized nest boxes).  These can be washed and will last longer before being chewed.
3.  The rat igloo
Rat igloos are available from pet stores but are quite expensive.  A cheaper option is to go into your local discount store and find a suitable sized plastic salad bowl, round tupperware container or vegetable strainer.  You can simply cut an entrance hole in it (see Cutting Plastic below) and drill a few air holes in the top for ventilation.  This one (shown right) was made from a plastic rice strainer for $2 from Overflow.
4.  The lunch box
These are an excellent alternative to shop bought nest boxes.  The larger ones (look for Decor brand in particular, as shown here) make good small to medium sized nest boxes, by simply cutting a hole in one side.  You can leave the lid attached ... it acts as a base to the nest box and can be useful to hold any bedding in place.

5.  Tupperware containers
If you require something a little larger than a lunch box, then this is a great option.  Tupperware (or food storage containers) come in just about any size and shape and are quite cheap from discount stores.  Simply cut an entrance hole in the side and it's ready.  The main problem with these is they are usually transparent and rats prefer to be in a dark enclosure.  You can solve this by placing it in a dark corner of their cage, or by covering the outside of the container with stick-on contact sheeting.  This is waterproof, cheap, comes in lots of colours and patterns (to match your rat cage decor) and rats don't tend to chew it much.
6.  The wooden nest box
If you're carpentarily inclined, this is another good option for a nest box.  Just be sure to coat the inside and top with stick-on contact to waterproof it.  Here's an old one we made up for our first rats... it's now lasted through 9 rats and is still their favourite nest box.
7.  Terracotta pots
These make great nest boxes, particularly in summer when they tend to remain cool even on hot days.  Standard round pots can be wired to the cage walls or simply laid on their sides on the cage floor.  The best of these I've found is this recumbent one (shown left).

Cutting plastic
Cutting plastic is not always a simple task as it can be quite thick and it is often brittle.  Soft plastics can be cut easily with scissors or a stanley knife (be very careful!  looks wryly at her scarred thumb).  Tougher plastics may require a hacksaw or power jigsaw, followed by smoothing of the cut surface with a file.  A hole saw attachment for a power drill is handy if you'd like a round entrance hole in the nest box.  Another option for cutting plastics is the use of a wood burning tool, available from craft stores, which basically melt as they cut.

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The Fort
(thanks to Julie Eschliman for the idea)

This is a fun, cheap toy you can make to pander to your rat's burrowing instincts.  It's also a handy distraction if they're conducting illegal demolition work on your mattress or other furniture.

1.  Get a large box
2.  Seal all open flaps and cut just two or three rat-sized entrances in each end of the box
3.  Cram the box completely full of paper towels, newspaper, foam, fabric strips, cardboard, tissues, old towels, etc.
4.  Toss in a few treats to pique your rat's interest
5.  Add rats.

They will enjoy burrowing through the fort, chewing new exit holes, reorganising the packing material, stashing treats in it, etc.

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Sock it to me!

If you find yourself left with a mountain of mis-matched socks, here's a few rat toy ideas to make use of them:

1.  Sock ropes
Sew the socks end to end into a long length and then twist or plait them into a thick climbing rope for your rats.  Add a few knots for extra grip and feed it through a split ring / hook for hanging in the cage.

2.  Sock loft
Cut the toe off a large sock and string/tie/hook it up in the cage as a loft. (see Hammocks, etc. for hanging ideas)

3.  Sock bedding
Cut the socks into pieces and use them as bedding material for the nest box.

4.  Sock sewer
Sew a number of socks together into an intricate tunnel system for rats to play in. (See The Soft Tunnel)

5.  Digging socks
Get a cardboard box or basket and fill up with old socks.  The rats will enjoy digging in them. (See The Fort or Digging Box)

6.  Sock ladders
Use a large sock as a ladder/ramp from one shelf to another.  Simply attach it with hooks or safety pins, stringing it up tightly.

7.  Sock piñata
Fill the toe of a sock with lots of yummy rat treats.  Tie the end so that they're enclosed and then attach the sock to the cage roof with a string so that it's just within reach of your rats.  They will find it a fun challenge to rip open the sock to get to the treats. (See Ratty Piñata)

8.  Warm socks
Fill some socks with dried wheat (or rice) to make heat pillows.  Simply warm in the microwave or oven and your rats will have a safe, warm pillow to snuggle up to in winter.  (See Ratty Beanbags for details)

Of course, many of these could also be made using other recycled fabric, like old tshirts, towels and jeans.  Get creative!

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The Wading Pool

A wading pool is lots of fun for summertime... splashing about getting cool, digging, and searching for treats! 

1.  Get a heavy pot plant dish or bowl.
2.  Add some smooth pebbles - these are available from garden and homewares stores.
3.  Fill up the dish with water.
4.  Scatter in some frozen peas or corn, hiding them under the pebbles.
5.  Add rats.

Your rats will have a wonderful time digging in the pebbles in search of treats!  And they'll cool off at the same time.

See more photos of our boys enjoying The Wading Pool

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The Rat Run

Want to free range your rats, but your home is a ratty nightmare of electrical cords and antique furniture?  Then here's an idea to let your rats run in a safe closed off section of your home.

You will need:

1.  A couple of large packing boxes.  You might find these free somewhere, or they're only a few dollars to buy new.  You will need something about thigh height when the box is collapsed.
2.  A few large bull clips.

What to do:

1.  Cut the boxes down one side so that they become flat cardboard pieces.
2.  Stand the cardboard pieces up, overlapping them, and then secure together with the bull clips.
3.  Extend the cardboard "wall" across a corner of your room where there are no power cords or other dangerous or chewable items.  Anchor with furniture, and zigzag the cardboard as necessary to support it over long distances.  You could also create a free standing corral in the centre of the room, or just use the cardboard wall to block off specific rat no-go zones.
4.  Add rats, lots of toys and yourself.

This is so cheap and simple to construct, and it folds away flat for easy storage between rat run times.  Enjoy!

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Toys from the trash!

Rats enjoy so many simple toys and many of these are things you probably throw out on a regular basis.  Before you toss anything, think like a rat...

1.  Boxes - boxes from breakfast cereals, tissues, posted items, shoes, etc all make great rat nest boxes.  Just cut an entrance hole.  Or cut a few holes in them, tape them together and create a fun ratty clubhouse!
2.  Bottles - cut the ends off large plastic drink bottles to make tunnels.  These can also be strung up in the cage as lofts, or taped together into a tunnel maze.
3.  Paper bags - rats just can't get enough of playing inside paper bags!  The crinkly noises, pouncing as it moves, ripping holes in the bag to poke their noses through, and chewing on the paper, etc.
4.  Fabric - save your old tshirts, socks and towels.  They can make great rat bedding, hammocks, lofts, and ropes.  Toss cut up fabric strips into a box and your rats will love digging through them too!
5.  Newspaper - make your rats a tent out of newspaper, place them inside and watch them enjoy it.  They'll shred the paper and drag it all over the room, and generally have fun.
6.  Toilet rolls - the inner cardboard in toilet paper and paper towel rolls make tunnels for young rats and mice.  Or place some treats inside one, close the ends and give to your rats... they'll have a fun challenge to get to the treats!

The possibilities are endless!  Just be sure that what you give them is clean and free of food scraps or sharp edges.

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The Ratty Blanket

One of our boys' most loved and practical toys is their ratty blanket.  It's basically just a 1.5 x 2.5 m polar fleece blanket that I made them one winter.  I blanket-stitched the edge to finish it neatly, but there's not really any need to do this as polar fleece doesn't fray.
This ratty blanket has so many uses!

The blanket also doubles as a rat-proof cover for your sofa or bed during play time.  They'll eventually chew holes in it, but they look so cute when they poke their heads through them.  Enjoy!

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